Excerpt from an article in the Minneapolis Sentinel, August 19th, 1910:
Prominent Citizen Stabs Daughter
At 11:23 pm last evening, police were called to the residence of the late Arthur H. Durant, at 720 Grove Avenue, Minneapolis. Authorities searched the home and found his widow, Mrs. Lillian Durant in a third-story room clutching a pair of scissors. She offered no resistance when taken into custody. Moments later, her ten-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Durant was discovered hiding in the attic. The girl was taken to St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital in Minneapolis, treated and released to the care of her grandmother. This is Mrs. Durant’s second attack upon her daughter in the past year.
* * * Minneapolis, MN. 1917
“Welcome back to the lie-factory,” Libby muttered as she stepped out of the cab in front of her home at 720 Grove Avenue. Dressed in a suit from the House of Paquin with a pleated hobble skirt and hat cocked smartly on her head, Elizabeth Durant gave the impression of being much older than her seventeen years. Her light brown hair was bobbed, and she was holding a clutch of fine leather. “Leave the grip by the back door,” she said to the driver. “Which one is yours?” “The tag that says, Elizabeth Durant. The other belongs to my sister, Jennifer. Drop that at St. Mary’s Hospital please.” “Yes, ma’am,” he replied and took her valise to the service entrance, setting it outside the door. “Thank you,” she murmured, handing him the fare. He drove off. Libby turned and looked up at the house. She had been away at boarding school for seven years, and little had changed. She ran her eyes over the massive structure. “Ugly beast,” she said. Built in a style popular forty years earlier, the Durant residence resembled a small castle. Sandstone masonry, Romanesque arches, and turrets characterized the design, giving it a heavy, foreboding appearance. The green awnings were the only bit of color on the dreary façade. The house seemed abandoned and silent as the grave. Even though it was near downtown, the expansive lawn and the park behind it muffled the sounds of the city. Libby frowned. Where was Mrs. Zabek? Surely they had not dismissed all the staff after the death of her mother. Ignoring the thick-pillared grand portico, she went around to the service door. When she entered the kitchen, a recording of Enrico Caruso was playing on the Victrola, but the room was empty. “Mrs. Zabek?” she called, pulling off her gloves. But there was no answer. Libby lifted the arm on the player silencing the music and called for Mrs. Zabek once more. Someone had been chopping vegetables, and she picked up a piece of celery, taking a bite. A tiny chair in the corner by the dumb waiter caught her eye. It had been her chair when she was a child, and a little rocker was next to it. That had been Jennie’s chair. The girls had spent hours there listening to stories from the housekeeper about Poland and Norwegian tales from the carriage driver and maid. She turned away. She couldn’t allow herself to reminisce. Memories were dangerous. She opened a silver case and took out a cigarette. After lighting it, she tipped her head back and blew out the smoke. Although she was young, she already had a cynical, hard-edge to her character. Life as a Durant had not been easy. The money had provided a buffer, but eventually, the family illness could no longer be hidden. Fodder for yellow journalism, Libby had learned to survive the headlines by hiding behind a hard shell and a reputation as a party girl. She stepped through the swinging doors into the dining room. “Hello?” Again no answer. Her heels clicked loudly on the highly polished, hardwood floor as she passed into the hall. The stained glass windows cast a ruby glow upon the room. Across from the front door was a large mosaic fireplace flanked on either side by carpeted stairs which led up to the second and third stories. She stopped for a moment to listen. The only sound was ticking from the grandfather clock. Taking a puff of her cigarette again, Libby walked over and glanced briefly at the library and music room before going up to the bedrooms, the part of the house she hated. She stopped in front of a full-length mirror on the landing to check her hair. The last time she had looked in this mirror, she had been a little girl. Now she was a full grown woman, long and lean with smooth, caramel-colored hair and hazel eyes under arched brows. She held her head high with the famous Durant confidence, but it was the Brennan insecurity that made her a fighter. Some thought her face was too angular and her lips too full, but if anyone believed it, they never dared comment. They would have been cut by her sharp tongue. Staring at herself, Libby watched the smoke curl around her head and then continued up the stairs. The chubby iron cupid still sat on the banister holding a globe light, and she smirked when she saw it. His naked body used to make her and Jennie giggle, and they would cover him with doll clothes. Taking a last puff, she stepped into the bathroom to flush her cigarette. It was a slick, white-tiled room with a square porcelain sink, a stool and claw footed tub. A long narrow chamber, it was lit by a floor-to-ceiling stained glass window at one end. The moment Libby walked in, she regretted it. A memory returned. “I’m sorry,” she heard her mother say. “I said bad things to you. I said you couldn’t be trusted.” “It doesn’t matter, Mama.” “Yes, it does. Yes, it does. Yes, it does,” Mrs. Durant repeated as she sat on the floor rocking back and forth. A woman in her middle years, she was thin to the point of emaciation, her eyes were glassy, and her dark hair was disheveled. “Yes, it does. Yes, it does.” “Let’s go back to your room, Mama.” “No!” she barked. Suddenly Mrs. Durant jumped up and pulled open the medicine cabinet. “Must find something sharp. Need to cut my tongue out.” Libby dropped her cigarette into the toilet, pulled the chain and flushed. She walked down the hall to her room and opened the drapes, flooding the room with light. Although this was her bedroom, she was indifferent to it. She had never been allowed to decorate it herself, and she had no fond memories of time spent there. She thought that the rich, heavy furnishings were suffocating. The walls were lined with dark walnut paneling, and a thick Turkish rug was on the floor. Her bed was a massive structure with a carved headboard of mahogany flowers. Although the room was large, it always felt close and smelled stuffy. Libby opened her closet. Her trunk had arrived from Beardsley Hall. Her clothes were hanging up, and her hat boxes were on the shelves. Something caught her eye in the hall. She had seen a woman sweep past the door in a white nightgown. When she looked, the hall was empty. “Damn it,” she said, rubbing her forehead. It had been memories of her mother again. Libby splashed water on her face at the bedroom sink. She should have stayed in Italy. But who would have brought Jennie home from school? She had missed her mother’s funeral, and for that, she wasn’t sorry, but she couldn’t plead distance as an excuse to abandon Jennie. They were best friends. She sat down heavily on the bed and sighed. It was as if Jennie had stepped right into her mother’s shoes. She too was having hallucinations now and had to leave boarding school after a violent outburst. Libby wondered why she was not yet stricken with the illness. Was it oozing into her consciousness, like black ink staining paper, or would it strike suddenly like a bolt of lightning? Her mother had succumbed to the madness, an uncle and aunt, two cousins, and now Jennie was having spells. Perhaps Libby favored the Durant side and would escape the insanity. Her father had died from a different disease though. His affliction was of the bottle. Was there no escape? Either way, here she was immersed in it once more, dealing with lunatics, alive and dead. Libby groaned and stood up. That settles it. She had to get out of this house. She would shop, stroll downtown or look up old friends, but she couldn’t stay here. Then she remembered. There was one place she would like to see again. Somewhere she always felt completely safe. It was the attic. Her mother never went there because she was afraid of it. So it had always been Libby’s refuge and held good memories. She started up the stairs giving the ballroom only a fleeting glance as she walked briskly across the dance floor. She passed down a hall and up the attic stairs. The ceilings were vaulted here, and the floors were littered with trunks, boxes, racks of old clothes and a menagerie of furniture and musty books. Everything was as she remembered it, a maze of nostalgia, familiar and comforting. It was hot, stuffy and smelled of mothballs, but she didn’t care. Sunlight streamed through the dirty windows, illuminating particles of dust drifting in the air. To Libby, they looked like fairies. She looked around. In that corner, she read Anne of Green Gables, The Wind in the Willows and Kidnapped, and there, under that window, she had cut out paper dolls with Jennie. She walked around a dressmaker’s mannequin to a large cedar closet and opened the door. It was still filled with furs and woolen overcoats as well as hats, gloves, and mittens. The smell of cedar immediately made her feel safe. When her mother had a spell, she had hidden here. Jennie always came with her, but it was unnecessary for her to hide. For some unexplained reason, Lillian Durant never attacked her younger daughter. Libby was always her target. Closing the door, she wound through stacks of books, past an old bird cage, a wooden highchair and squatted down by an old trunk. This had been another hiding place. She opened it and looked inside. The brittle paper label on the inside of the lid said, “Oshkosh Trunk Company.” The old swimming costumes were still inside, all crushed and wrinkled as if she had just stepped out from hiding. Libby sat back on her heels and looked around. Nothing had changed in seven years. Suddenly she sneezed. “And the air hasn’t changed either,” she said out loud. Dusting her hands off, she walked over to one of the windows. After several tries, she pulled it open. She could hear church bells ringing from the Basilica nearby, and leaning out, she took a deep breath of fresh air. The trees and flowers from the park made the air smell sweet and clean. For a moment it felt good to be home again, but the feeling vanished when she looked down and saw the pond on the terrace below. The marble basin had been drained, and the stone nymph in the center was broken. Libby remembered that the sculpture had been holding a shell that spouted water, but it was gone along with the arm. Libby clutched her stomach and pulled back inside. She knew why it was broken. Her mother had landed on the statue when she had flung herself from the window a month earlier. Rendered senseless from the fall, she had drowned in the fishpond. Libby pressed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying to hold the contents of her stomach down. Her knees felt weak, and she sat down heavily on the floor. What had possessed her mother to do it? What sinister voice had seduced her to the edge? Was there an apparition before her eyes coaxing her to jump or was it just deadly impulse? Libby’s grandmother said her mother’s attendant had fallen asleep, thinking Lillian was calm and coherent, but it had been a ruse. Lilly Durant was deep into hallucinations. No one was more loving and giving when she was well, but when she was sick, no one was more wily and dangerous. I have to get out of here, Libby thought. She left the attic, crossed the ballroom and quickly descended the stairs to the second floor. As she passed her mother’s room, she slowed her pace. A morbid curiosity suddenly flooded her. She simply had to see the window from which her mother had jumped, and she stepped inside the door. It was a grand room. The walls were painted a rich gold, and the floors and trim were of dark mahogany. A delicate stencil of yellow flowers below the ornate cornices added femininity to the heavy masculine trim. There was a white marble fireplace, and the bed had a coverlet of gold and sage green. The room was fully decorated with oil paintings, figurines and a tortoise shell vanity set. These luxuries were possible because when Lillian Durant was in residence, she was deemed healthy. During a spell, she would smash things and become violent, so the moment her lucidity was tenuous, she had been whisked away to an asylum for treatment. The “lie factory,” as Libby called it, had to be maintained. No one must know of the family illness. Libby bit her lip and stepped forward. Was the window shattered? Had her mother crashed through the panes in a mad frenzy or had she opened the sash, teetered on the sill and then jumped? Libby swallowed hard, pulled the drapes open and looked. The panes were not broken, the mullions were intact. Her mother must have opened the window before jumping. She sighed. She was glad to know. It would have haunted her otherwise, and she felt her body relax. But when she turned around, the drapes on the other window were moving, as if someone was hiding there. Two bare feet were visible at the bottom, and she could hear someone giggling as they twisted themselves around and around in the fabric. Libby’s heart jumped into her throat. It was another memory of her mother during one of her more violent fits. Panting with fear, she backed up and ran from the room. Sobbing, she raced down the stairs only to confront another memory. Her mother was laying on the steps, her dark hair in tangles around her shoulders. She was on her back, her feet higher than her head. She propped herself up on her elbows and gasped, “Help me, Elizabeth! I can’t remember how to climb the stairs!” She stretched her leg forward, trying to crawl upward. “Is this right?” Libby froze. Just as her mother was about to grab her ankle, she heard, “Hello, little girl.” Standing at the bottom of the stairs was a large, red-headed woman wearing a dark dress, white cap, and apron. She continued in her Polish accent. “So glad you’re home.” It was Mrs. Zabek, the housekeeper, and she pulled Libby back to the present.
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